Only 5 Percent Of People Wash Their Hands Correctly

And 23 percent don't even use soap. That's messed up, people.

“Many people do not wash their hands when the behavior in which they engage would warrant it,” begins a recent study from Michigan State University, and I’m sorry to say it only gets grosser from there. Researchers sneakily observed 3,749 people in public restrooms and found that nearly all of them—95 percent—didn’t wash their hands long enough to kill germs.

Even scarier, 15 percent of men and 7 percent of women did not wash their hands at all. When they did bother to turn on a faucet, half of men and 22 percent of women neglected to use soap! (Or, as the researchers describe it: They “attempted to wash their hands,” but failed.)

The CDC says you need to wash your hands—with soap!—for at least 20 seconds in order to kill disease-causing germs. Alas, the people in this study only washed their hands for an average of 6 seconds.

“Imagine you’re a business owner and people come to your establishment and get foodborne illness through the fecal-oral route—because people didn’t wash their hands—and then your reputation is on the line,” says Carl Borchgrevink, a professor at MSU and the study’s lead investigator. “You could lose your business.” Or, imagine you’re a person of any occupation, and the people around you have poop on their hands—because they don’t wash their hands.

This extensive study founds lots of other interesting tidbits about hand-washing habits. Here are a few:

  • People were more likely to wash their hands in the morning
  • People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty
  • People were more likely to wash their hands if there was sign to remind them

Other hand-washing research has found that college students are disgusting, people will wash their hands if they’re being watched, and antibacterial soap isn’t much better than the regular kind.

The study appears in the Journal of Environmental Health.